To say that Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. brings good seafood to St. Louis is a huge understatement. It’s more like the doorway to the Benton Park eatery is some sort of wormhole, transporting diners to a dockside table on the Chesapeake Bay. It’s a good thing, too — Peacemaker was the most hotly anticipated St. Louis restaurant opening of the year (even the national food site Eater took notice). That’s mostly because of the man at the helm, chef Kevin Nashan, whose Midas touch has earned him acclaim for Sidney Street Cafe, a James Beard Award nomination and a passionate fan base. It’s no surprise, then, that his new seafood concept lives up to — no, exceeds — the hype.
And the hype is real. Throngs of hungry patrons wait in hour-plus lines (the restaurant does not take reservations for parties under six), hoping for a spot in one of the aqua, periwinkle and light green chairs set around rustic wooden tables. There are striking photos of the actual fishermen who are responsible for bringing Peacemaker the fruits de mer; Nashan’s friend traveled to Maine to photograph the gruff-looking bunch. Sure, it’s not exactly locavore eating, but once the food arrives, no one is complaining.
We began with a selection of East Coast oysters from the open raw bar that were incredibly fresh, tasting of cucumber, watermelon and seafoam. We paired the oysters with the cucumber-dill salad — thin slices of the vegetable served as a bed for crisp turnips, pickled onion and sunflower seeds. A hint of cucumber-dill vinaigrette enhanced the salad’s freshness.
Our server recommended the steamers — clams steeped in clam juice, lemon and garlic. The delicate broth brought out the shellfish’s sweetness, and it was perfect for soaking up with the accompanying grilled bread. Our clams had a good amount of grit in them, which was unfortunate. The chowder, however, was an improvement on the classic. Nashan’s version tasted nuttier and more garlicky than others I’ve had, and the small chunks of softened potatoes and heaping clam meat made this a dish I’ll keep coming back for during the cold months ahead.
Peacemaker’s seafood boils are the way to go for those looking for the most authentic seaside experience. Guests choose between plump and juicy head-on shrimp, a whole Maine lobster or four blue crabs. The shellfish is boiled with corn on the cob, potatoes and mild Andouille sausage. A few fried potatoes are thrown in for texture, and the lobster boil comes with a hard-boiled egg. The accompanying buttermilk biscuit is reason enough to order it. This heavenly, layered shortbread is a contender for best biscuit in town. I urge everyone to dip it into the ramekin of drawn butter and prepare to be enraptured.
The “Peacemaker Poorboy” features cornmeal-crusted oysters fried just enough to give the bivalves crunch, while ensuring the meat remains supple. Like all of the sandwiches, it’s served on crusty bread with tangy remoulade, housemade sweet pickles, lettuce and tomatoes. If a landlubber stumbles into Peacemaker, he won’t leave disappointed — the smoked beef brisket can compete with the town’s top barbecue joints. The juice from this well-marbled cut soaks into the bread like a sauce.
Now let’s get down to business: the already-famous lobster roll that has the line going out the door. The Maine version is served cold and tossed with mayonnaise and lemon zest, while the Connecticut roll is served hot and doused in drawn butter. Both are wrapped in griddled bread that looks and tastes as though brioche and Texas toast had a love child. Nashan worked with Companion bakery for four months to perfect this recipe, and the efforts paid off. It’s magnificent.
Side dishes such as spicy hush puppies, pickled fried green tomatoes and house-made corn dogs are a study in Southern comfort fare. Diners should not leave without trying the excellent collard greens. The sweet and smoky braised vegetables taste like they’ve been steeped in a bacon and sugar solution for days.
Sidney Street Cafe’s pastry chef Robert Zugmaier created a whimsical selection of sweets for Peacemaker, including miniature pumpkin-spiced whoopie pies filled with marshmallow cream and sno-cones with homemade syrups. The “Kentucky Derby” pie, a confection of bourbon, chocolate and pecans topped with homemade soft-serve ice cream, would have been the best pie of my life — if only the crust were better. It was tacky and difficult to break apart; our forks could not cut through without substantial effort.
My meal at Peacemaker left me so carried away that I swear I smelled saltwater when I stepped out into the crisp night air. Nashan is quite the magician — he’s transformed his little eatery into Benton-Park-by-the-Sea.